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Rape is not a morality issue

For a nation that is so prudish when it comes to all things sexual, we sure know how to turn a blind eye when the darker side of sexuality rears its head. Which it seems to do with disturbing regularity.

Considering Malta's size, words like 'rape', 'violent indecent assault' and 'abuse of minors' crop up pretty much on a weekly basis. I'm not exaggerating, go on Google the sexually-related court cases in Malta in the past year.

You'd have thought that we'd be alarmed, baying for the blood (metaphorically-speaking) of these perpetrators. You'd have thought that given the importance we attach to the odd spot of skinny dipping by foreign students, we'd be looking at that other matter of someone forcing himself on another human being with an even more horrified eye. After all, if being caught skinny dipping merits punishments that range from fines to conditional discharge and a whole barrage of outraged letters in the media, then surely rape should bring out all the usual do-gooders and moralisers out in full force.

Only, it doesn't. Even when it's gang rape we're talking about and the sentence imposed is 11 years, as just happened earlier in court today. Not even when we're talking raping your own three daughters and getting a 10 year prison sentence, which is exactly what happened a couple of months ago.

With every such court sentence that is delivered, my faith in the value we attach to our humanity takes yet another nose-dive. And let no-one attempt to justify such paltry sentences by quoting legal minimum and maximum punishments. Yes, I'm aware that our judges have to work within the parameters of the law. But stupid laws can be changed – shock and horror, yes indeed. With some work, effort and lobbying on the part of our legislators laws can indeed be changed.

Starting with the ridiculous notion that sexual offences are classified as an 'offence against the peace and honour of families' (whatever that may mean) as opposed to under 'crimes against the person'.

So let me get this right: if you throw a couple of punches around, that's a crime against my person. But if you get two of your buddies to hold me down while you have your way with me...that's an offence against the honour of my family? Where are we living, in feudal times when women (victims tend to be women) are considered chattel, belonging to the pater familias to dispose of as he pleases?

And what are the corollaries to this? Should said pater familias choose, for reasons best known to himself, to turn a blind eye to the assault, does this mean that no breach of honour has been committed and all is fine and dandy?

I really do not like to take the route of whining about how the system is unjust towards women and so forth. We've heard it all before. But I can't stomach reading about how this woman – who was held down by two men while a third violated her – is supposed to accept that an 11-year-jail sentence is justice enough for what was done to her. Stomaching that without saying anything is tantamount to condoning it.

I also can't figure out the way we all seem to be accepting this. Where are the online petitions, the indignant letters to the press, the outraged communities?

There should be no need for me to explain this, but make no mistake about it. Rape is a violent act against the person. It's not a breach of honour. It's not a wound to your dignity, though it is that too, of course. It is a lot more than some vague offence against 'the morals'. If you speak to any rape victim about morals, chances are that they'll throw the word back at you faster than you can say pater familias.

Rape is not even about sex. It's about wanting to hurt someone; about gaining dominance over another person; about proving to yourself that you have more power than the person you are violating. And if all this does not spell 'violence against the person', then I don't know what does.

So what are our legislators waiting for to make this right?

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